Contact: Bruce Woods (907) 786-3695

News 10-18 / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Anchorage AK

On May 20th, 2010 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sent a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Acting Director Rowan Gould announcing the state’s intention to begin a predator control operation on Unimak Island on or about June 1, 2010. The Service today responded to that letter. Unimak Island is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and National Wilderness Preservation System. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act set forth major purposes for establishing and managing Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Among these are to conserve the refuge’s animal populations and habitats in their natural diversity, and to provide opportunities for continued subsistence uses by local residents. Among other points, Director Gould’s letter included the following:

• The State first raised concerns about the viability of the caribou herd on Unimak Island to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in December 2009. Since that time, the Service’s Alaska region has worked closely with Alaska Department of Fish and Game to better understand the biological issues at hand. The Service has issued permits to allow additional radio collaring and biological sampling of wolves and caribou; and has discussed, at length, the process federal land managers must follow prior to initiating new management programs.

• The Service’s Alaska Region has begun that process, including working toward National Environmental Policy Act compliance, to determine appropriate management alternatives and actions.

• Although we acknowledge the sense of urgency facing the Unimak Island caribou herd, we, as a federal agency, are required to be transparent in our actions. Completing the NEPA process will provide that transparency.

• We have used the NEPA process in every instance where we conducted predator control on National Wildlife Refuge Lands in Alaska, including the Rat Island invasive rat eradication project and the trapping of foxes to protect brant colonies on the Yukon Delta.

• The proposed predator management by the State of Alaska, or its agents, on Unimak Island requires a special use permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is considered a significant action since aerial predator control has not been conducted on National Wildlife Refuge lands in Alaska in recent history. Conducting any such activity without a special use permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be a violation of the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, as amended, and considered as a trespass on the Refuge; and would be immediately referred to the United States Attorney.

• Director Gould concluded that the agency values greatly its relationships and tradition of partnership with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and encouraged the State to continue to work with the Alaska Region on this issue following the path required for major actions taken by Federal agencies. He reaffirmed the Service’s belief that the amount of time needed to utilize a sound and legally supportable decision-making process will allow state and federal agencies to better understand desired wildlife population outcomes and to define the management actions necessary to attain those outcomes.

The Service shares the state’s concern for caribou populations on Unimak Island, and will continue to conduct its management activities in accordance with the refuge mandates of ANILCA. We believe the Unimak Island caribou population and the public are best served by continuing the enviable history of cooperation and communication between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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